Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges), a cynical, arrogant shock jock talk radio host, becomes suicidally despondent after his on-air comments inadvertently prompt a psychotic caller to commit multiple murders at a popular bar. Three years later, while heavily intoxicated and depressed, he attempts to commit suicide. Before he can do so, he is mistaken for a homeless person and is attacked and almost set on fire by ruffians. He is rescued by Parry (Robin Williams), a deluded homeless man who is on a mission to find the Holy Grail, and tries to convince Lucas to help him. Lucas is initially reluctant, but comes to feel responsible for Parry when he learns that the man's condition is a result of witnessing his wife's horrific murder at the hands of Lucas's psychotic caller.
The title refers to the legend of the Fisher King, a form of which Parry recounts to Lucas. The legend varies, but all iterations possess three elements: the Fisher King was charged by God with guarding the Holy Grail, but later incurred some form of incapacitating physical punishment for his sin of pride, and had to wait for someone to deliver him from his suffering. This was usually Percival, who was also referred to in the movie as "The Fool", with the closing exchange, "How is it that you found what my brightest and bravest could not?" The Fool laughed and said "I don't know. I only knew that you were thirsty." Echoes of the legend recur throughout the film, but in a continually shifting manner, so that it sometimes appears that Lucas is Percival to Parry's Fisher King, sometimes vice versa, and sometimes that one or the other is re-enacting part of the story with another character (most obviously in Parry's self-assigned quest to obtain the Grail from the man he believes is its guardian).
Also, according to the Directors episode, Gilliam came up with the scene where Robin Williams and Amanda Plummer meet during a huge waltz in the middle of Grand Central Station, because he felt the scene LaGravenese had written (which had a large group of people in a crowded subway listen to a homeless black woman sing with a beautiful voice) wasn't working. He was at first hesitant about this because his original intentions were to just shoot the script and that the waltz would make it "a Terry Gilliam film." The scene was shot in one night with some professional extras and others just passengers getting off the train.
The film cost $24 million to make. Box Office revenue was approximately $42 million.
Mercedes Ruehl also won the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Award for Best Supporting Actress, the American Comedy Award for Funniest Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, the Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.
Robin Williams won a Golden Globe for 'Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture in a Comedy/Musical'.
Jane Jenkings and Janet Hirshenson won an Artios Award from the Casting Society of America for 'Best Casting in a Feature Film (Comedy).'